Pre-Order “Nourished,” Get “We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook” FREE

Pre-Order Nourished by January 4, 2015 and get We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook FREE

Rachel and I have some exciting news! Our publisher Zondervan is generously offering a fabulous “two-fer” deal. If you somehow missed out on our first book We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook–the inspiration for this blog–or have been wanting to share a copy with a friend, you can get both We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook and our new book Nourished right now for the price of one!

Simply pre-order the Nourished book or ebook from any major retailer and get a free ebook of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook via BookShout.

All of the details and purchase links to all major retailers can be found here on Zondervan’s website. Once you order Nourished, simply follow the steps on the BookShout FAQ page to get your free ebook. Your copy of Nourished will ship (or show up on your ereader) on January 6.

Word of mouth is and always will be the best form of marketing, so we would be so grateful if you would share this offer with your friends.

While we’re on the subject, if you’ve read We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook and haven’t already posted a review on Amazon, BN.com, or Goodreads, now would be a great time to add a review too!

 Get We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook and our new book Nourished for the price of one, December 15-January 4!About Nourished

With humor, honesty and faith Becky Johnson and her daughter Rachel Randolph determine to tackle the stuff that is stressing them out, once and for all. From interviews with friends and lots of research they came up with The Ten Most Common Stressors That Mess with a Woman’s Mind: daily challenges that routinely steal her sense of peace and joy. Together Becky and Rachel cook up a plan to live a less depleted and more nourished life. Opposites in many ways mom and daughter share their successes and failures as they make peace with their imperfect bodies, create living spaces they love, get wiser in their relationships, tame jam-packed schedules, settle into God’s love, and more. In short, they stumble and journey together toward a life that better nourishes them – body, mind, soul and spirit.

Published by Zondervan, January 2015.

About We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook

Becky Johnson and her daughter Rachel Randolph come from a long line of laughter. The female side of their family tree is dotted with funny storytellers, prolific authors, hospitable home cooks, and champion chatters. In We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, Becky—a butter and bacon loving mama—and Rachel—a vegan bean eating daughter—share stories of their crazy, wonderful, and sometimes challenging lives as Rachel becomes a mother herself. Becky is messy; Rachel craves order. Becky forgets what month it is; Rachel is an organizational genius. (At least before baby arrives.) Sprinkled throughout are the lip-smacking, nourishing recipes they love to make and share. From food for a family reunion of thirty, to lunch for a party of one in a high chair, to a hot meal for a sick friend, the authors demonstrate grace, acceptance, and love to others through the bonding gifts of humor, attentive listening, and cooking … whether diners prefer beef or lentils in their stew.

Published by Zondervan, August 2013.


3rd Alternative to Getting Hurt or Angry: Or When Mother Teresa Meets Tina Fey

becky peace

Me, Getting Closer to Peace

Nourished Living 

(Becky, the Mama) 

Because I am one of those ultra sensitive souls, I am typically “porous” for negative emotions bouncing around me (or worse, toward me). But I experienced something fascinating a few months ago when I was caught in a small room with people who had an abundance of off-kilter logic, controlling “name it and claim it” spirituality and barely disguised contempt for a couple of us who were obviously not in their rah-rah camp.  With pasted-on-smiles they dished out holier-than-thou belittling, with a few passive-aggressive jabs thrown in for good measure. The exact situation that would have, in the past, triggered waves of uncontrollable shaking in me.  This would could be followed by automatic fight or flight response that might hold me an emotional hostage for hours, or days.  PTSD is such a joy.

Because I was in a situation where I could not leave, I sat in this tiny room, with this negative nuttiness bouncing around me for several hours. But here’s where the miracle came, where I saw that the six months of therapy with my brilliant counselor had paid off:  Instead of absorbing it or going into my typical “deer in headlights” response, or worse, a full-blown meltdown, I sort of floated above the scene in my mind.  And when I looked down on it, in a truly detached way… I experienced what have only been able to describe as ….benevolent amusement. I found myself actually smiling and nodding kindly, feeling as though I’d morphed into an odd combination of Mother Teresa and Tina Fey.

I saw so clearly that these folks chose their mode of thinking and behaving, and intense (aggressive?) spirituality as a desperate attempt to 1) control the uncontrollable and 2) make them feel okay about themselves. In short, they were avoiding the painful emotions of shame, fear or depression by their beliefs and behavior. And I saw this because, I too, have been there, done that. Maybe I still do. Maybe we all do this at some level. Denial is a good band-aid until genuine self-acceptance and grace take its place.

What blew me away about this experience was that I left those hours in that small room with quirky, self-righteous personalities … and not only did I leave it personally unscathed, but I left it feeling this wonderful melding of compassion and amusement. I felt as though I’d finally stumbled upon a key to something hugely important. That Benevolent Amusement is a 3rd and more healthy stance than 1) absorbing negativity and getting triggered,hurt or wounded; 2) getting flooded with toxic anger and striking back.

Later, reflecting over the scene, I thought, “Wow. This must be what people call  ‘rising above’ .. “

And, interestingly,  it felt a lot like relaxed peace.  

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Mona Lisa & Her Smile of Benevolent Amusement


What’s Rachel Been Doing?

Well, maybe only our most loyal readers will realize it, but I haven’t been around much! After my last post way back in the Spring, I started working on a new blog, The Nourished Mama, a place where I can talk all things motherhood…which is pretty much where my life is fully entrenched for the foreseeable future.

I’ll still be doing food blogs over there and hopefully will still pop over here occasionally. But don’t worry, my mom Becky, who lets face it, did 75% of the blogs here anyway, will be holding down the fort at We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook.

Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find at The Nourished Mama. Check it out and be sure to subscribe, if this is your cuppa tea, so you won’t miss a post.

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Where Standards Are Low and Grace is High — My first post

 

Our Family Dinner Rule

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Family Dinner Rule That Keeps Our Toddler at the Table

 

Little Boy in Yellow Goggles

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Boy in the Yellow Goggles — Jackson, 3 1/2, is so funny these days and providing me with more material than I can churn out right now!

 

Chickpea Salad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chickpea “Chicken” Salad — My summer sandwich obsession

 

Nourished Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zondervan Announces New Book Nourished in an Official Press Release

 

View More: http://whitleydaniellephotography.pass.us/randolph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Coffee Shop Tab is Going Up by a Cup — My latest post! :)

I love you loyal Laugh, Cry, Cookers! You’ve launched my writing career, cheered me on through my first three years of motherhood, made me laugh, brought me to grateful tears, and inspired me to be a better, more authentic version of me. Thank you!


Without Autumn, Spring Can’t Come: Lessons in Letting Go

Room with an Autumn View

Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember nothing stays the same for long, not even pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.”
― May Sarton

Nourish Your Soul 

(Becky, the Mama)

If I had to sum up what this past year has taught me it is that life is like leaves on a tree. Something buds and is born, then it blossoms, flourishes, changes form and color. Then at some point, begins to fade. The hard part comes where we have no choice but to let go of “what was” — trust the wind and the soil to do “the thing they do” to the leaves given up to their care. This is followed by a time of lying dormant, fallow, at rest, no visible sign of productivity — but much is taking place within the quiet huddle of wintry hibernation.

spring patio snowstarbust snow

And then, in due season, new buds, verdant green, pink blossoms … Spring. That feeling of something beginning, growing again. Bearing fruit, sharing the bounty and shade of your presence with others.

view from porch swing

The greatest lesson in all this, for me, is that without a Letting Go, there is no room for the New Thing that wants to be born. We must not cling too tightly to yesterday least we miss what God is doing today, and the good surprises waiting for us, around the bend, in our tomorrows.

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“Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands.” Isaiah 43: 19-20 The Message

Where are you in the emotional/spiritual cycle of seasons?


The Pocket Guide to Narcissism: Nourishing Recovery from Crazymakers (or Becky’s Kitchen Table Therapy)

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Nourishing Yourself When Recovering From Crazy-making Relationships

As the title of our first book says, sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cook, sometimes we cry. Today, I (Becky) sit at my virtual kitchen table,  and turn a face of compassion and empathy to those who cry, particularly to those who’ve been a part of a crazy-making relationship with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

I spent some time this past week with several sweet souls who’d become entwined with a person who exuded what felt like genuine warmth and charm; then they woke one day to realize they had been discarded, maligned or emotionally abused by this very same friend, lover, spouse or relative. So this particular  brand of pain is deep on my heart this morning. If you or someone you know has been hit and run-over by someone with NPD, this post is for you.  I’ve put the kettle on, and offer you the kitchen sink:  all I’ve learned and gleaned on the subject.

The fall from a Narcissist’s pedestal is often shocking, sudden, disorienting, and excruciating.  If the relationship was long-term or involved a close relative, it is not an easy recovery, and nearly always leaves the victim with some form of post-traumatic stress. (It isn’t called a “crazymaking disorder” for nothing. You may question your sanity and sense of reality for awhile.  Which is often the unstated goal of an NPD. )

The healing path will involve a lot of self-nourishing:  surrounding yourself with the love, affirmation, caring, and space to be human as you recover. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you may feel as though your head is in a blender, and need help unraveling truth from fiction, reality from their fantasy.

Below is a list of NPD traits to help you get clarity whenever you feel caught in the whirl of their “special kind of logic” — in fact, you may want to print out this list and keep it handy when you need to extract yourself from their convoluted web.  The list is long, but in my experience, those who are in recovery from this brand of dysfunctional relationship are hungry for all the information they can get.  So here’s the whole enchilada.

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1, The Narcissist’s Image is the most important thing to them.They do not have a true sense of self, only the self that appears when “on stage,” receiving fresh applause or “narcissistic fixes.” These hits of praise, from increasingly new sources are the food that keeps a narcissist alive. (Often referred to as Narcissistic Supply.)

2. They lack true empathy. However, they can mimic it when it serves their purposes for a period of time,  usually while they are courting your attention. The smarter they are, the better they are at mimicking things like caring, authenticity, warmth and even vulnerability. However, they can’t keep up the act forever,  and when they’ve gotten all the narcissistic supply they can squeeze from you,  you’ll a) be dropped while they search for new sources of admiration or b) treat you as an “object of contempt”  and possibly actively seek ways to hurt, disparage and belittle you.

3. You may notice a lack of congruency in their facial expressions and words. They may be saying, “I’m so sorry for what you are going through…” but their body language doesn’t line up. No tears in eyes, no touching, no emotive natural expression of empathy.  No deep listening. Their delivery can be oddly detached. You have a feeling in your gut that you are not being truly seen or heard.  (Unless it is a performance at the beginning of the courtship dance, or an act for the benefit of on-lookers.) You may feel as though they are pushing you into a mold of their own making, an image that does not resonate with the way you and others see you.

4. They value people they perceive as cool, special, successful or attractive and spend lots of time winning their notice, seeking their approval. People who they perceive to be leaders of influence, or a little hard-to-get are prime targets.  They hope to gain significance by association in order to validate their own fragile sense of worth.

5.  NPDs eventually show contempt for people who actually love and show authentic empathy for them. Their unconscious internal dialogue goes something like this, “If you love and accept me and treat me well, you obviously don’t know who I really am. I now despise your lack of true insight.”

6. If you make the mistake of giving unsolicited advice, or don’t believe and express that everything they do is flawless, or they perceive you as slighting them or preferring another person in any small way, you can trigger an internal “shame response” in them that is unbearable for them.  (There is a lot written about narcissists and their responses to “perceived slights” and shame-based world views.) Your dismissal from their favor will thus be fast and furious.

7. You cannot win with a narcissist. Love them unconditionally and they will  eventually despise and feel contempt for you. Reveal who they are (human beings with flaws), try to draw boundaries, and they will retaliate or move on to fresh sources of narcissistic supply. They hate it when their “image” is uncovered.  They will do desperate, manipulative things to try to prop their image back up, and tear you down.

8. Intimacy is impossible. Intimacy requires mutual giving and receiving.  Mutual caring.  Mutual understanding and forgiving.  You cannot create intimacy when only one person in a relationship is giving, caring, listening, admiring, understanding and patient.

9. They spend large amounts of time fantasizing about their attractiveness, power or success, significance or coolness. (Image polishing.) They construct their world to feed these fantasies

10.  If you are a spouse or a child you’ll often feel as if you are walking on eggshells. Some Narcissists make surprisingly good parents to small children, because little ones can be manipulated to give almost unending supplies of affection that feed a narcissists’ need to be constantly adored. But when children grow and become independent or show affection for others,  the problems begin.  Narcissists see their kids as extensions of themselves, and take personal pride and kudos when their children do well or become a “mini me”.  But they may over-react with contemptuous behaviors when their children show flaws, independent thinking, love others in widening circles and no longer supply the parent with unconditional admiration.

11.  They are always right and fail to recognize how their actions, words and behaviors impact others. Don’t even try to argue, to explain your viewpoint or your feelings.  Your feelings and impressions do not exist or matter in their world.  A waste of your precious limited energy.

12. They are often articulate and sound logical, but when you step away from their conversation you realize that they are not following normal reasoning. You must “follow what they DO” and not “what they SAY” or you’ll feel lost in their alligator roll.

13. Narcissists vary in tactics but their underlying core needs are the same: to keep their image constantly propped up. Sometimes, narcissists were treated as the center of their parents’ universe. But more often they were abused, shamed or neglected as a child and got emotionally stuck there… (known as “the narcissistic or pyschic wound”).  They may have begun life with an open tender heart. Therefore shame from the abuse or neglect was so painful they went emotionally numb, losing a sense of identity.Their internal life is about seeking intense feelings that help erase that sense of numbness or lack of a clear sense of self.  Praise from fresh sources, or anything that gives them a rush of adrenalin, helps ease this internal state of pain or worse: no-feeling.

14. NPDs tend see politics and religion in black and white extremes.  There is rarely middle ground. They can become addicted to the power-rush provided by extreme political views in media or extreme-exclusivity in their religion.  They tend toward viewpoints that allow them to look down in superiority on large groups of others who don’t believe exactly as they do. Feeling superior is a big adrenalin hit to their psyche.

15. NPDs  often shine in careers that put them in a one-up position.  They are drawn to professions of power, are often lawyers, doctors,  actors. They do best when they don’t have to submit to authority; so they are often entrepreneurs or bosses. They can also be clergy (as long as they can escape real accountability) who prefer pontificating to the masses over one-on-one ministry  Some thrive in helping professions because this allows them to prop up the image of being a benevolent, though condescending, savior.

16. Some narcissists are openly grandiose. Others, usually those who are brighter, may actually know how to put on an act of humility… but watch their actions, not their words and you’ll see they are seeking a constant, nonstop flow of praise; or be attempting associate with others who they perceive as being popular, beautiful, smart and successful – as props to their own ego.  (You may have  once been their “trophy spouse” or “trophy friend” or “trophy child”…)  Those who have often loved and given them the most often find themselves suddenly the object of their contempt.

17.  They will often treat you one way in public (with an audience), another in private.  They tend to be nicer to you when you are down than when you are up and happy. In fact, they will often “bring you down” when you are happy or feeling good about a job well done, in order help bring you up once you are decimated or depressed  by their condescending or critical responses. Pay attention to the pattern of them “bringing you down” (putting you in your place) so they can “bring you up” (be the rescuer-hero)… happening in regular cycles.

18.  Conversations tend to wind up being about them, listening to their opinions and stories and angst and insight.  “That’s enough about me. Now, let’s talk about what YOU think about me.”  You’ll be expected to give 100% whenever they need you.  But you must not have any expectations of them.

19. Jealousy and envy are prime emotions.  They are either actively jealous of others or wanting to make others envious of them.

20.  Their need to always be right makes it impossible for them to step back and do self-evaluation or take an internal inventory. Therapy is seldom successful since they do not see themselves as needing any kind of  real help, with such a strong need to appear already perfect.

21. Emotional Grenades — NPDs are masters at diversion. When you get close to the truth about them, they’ll throw an emotional bomb (perhaps with a hint of truth) by bringing up you’ve done in the past, or a flaw you are sensitive to, and get you to  stop looking at them and start self-examining.  This is a powerful technique to keep all prying eyes off of them.

22. Accusations — they will most often accuse you of doing the negative things they are actually doing. In fact, if you want to know what a narcissist is up to, ask yourself, “What  bizarre thing are they accusing me of?”  Therein lies what they are doing.

23. Lying is as common as breathing for many NPDs.  Though they will guard their “lie” as the “truth” to the very end. Because “their truth” is THE truth.  (Think Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, or Ric hard Nixon’s interviews with David Frost.)

24. Gas Lighting — this phrase comes from an old movie where a husband tricks his wife into believing she has lost her mind. If you feel your grasp on sanity is becoming more fragile when around this person,  they could be “gas lighting” you.  (I.E  Tell you that you did not see something you saw, hear something you heard, etc. There is a book by this name that could prove helpful is this is happening to you.)

25.  Intermittent Abuse/Affection – psychiatrists have found that some of the most damaging abuse is emotional abuse, where there appears to be no real pattern or rhyme or reason to someone’s sudden 180% turn away from you after a time of great affection.  The carrot of your expected performance is always moving, shifting, without warning or reason.  This is truly crazy-making.  Lab animals can go insane or into despair  when they cannot figure out a pattern to avoid mistreatment and to receive rewards.  It can also make people form “trauma bonds” to their intermittent abuser.   (See “Stockholm Syndrome”)

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Loving a narcissistic is a tragedy for all involved. You may get windows, or glimpses of the NPDs original wound and feel deep empathy for what you see there, and put up with all manner of neglect or abuse hoping to help or save them. The tragedy is that a narcissist is often called “unfixable” because they cannot be helped by even the most loving, consistent, patient and insightful of people. The pattern is too deeply embedded and even the most skilled psychiatrists admit that these are the most hopeless of cases, psychologically speaking.

Relationships with true NPDs can be managed, but they cannot be healed. They can function in certain scenarios better than others, they may do better with some personality types than others, and they may even mellow with time. (NPD men may see lessening of  anger and impulsive behaviors as testosterone wanes in later years.)  They CAN show love and feel affection, but it is within strong limits.  (They love you as much as they can, but it may still come very short of what a normal person needs.) Medication can be helpful to ease some of the depression and agitation that often go with the disorder, but few narcissists will seek it out or take it, as this is an assault to the pride. (Though self-medicating with drugs or alcohol is okay somehow.) Most professionals agree that, as of now, there is no known cure for someone with true Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (There is, however, improvement possible for people with narcissistic traits who don’t have a full-blown disorder.)

As a Christian,  this has been a hard truth to swallow, but I believe some invisible wounds to the brain and psyche, like losing a limb, will not be restored until heaven. Loving someone who has NPD, keeping realistic expectations of their limitations (psychological handicap) and their inability to love normally, is actually freeing. You can love them with detachment; but you have to remember they cannot love you back in return, not in all the true meanings of the word “love.”

If you recognize an NPD early and can simply avoid and “Run, Forrest, Run”… do so. If they are someone you are close to, and can’t escape from, expect all of the above scenarios, and guard yourself. Stay smart with your heart. Minimize time with them if you can and most of all, minimize their influence over you.

Then surround yourself with normal, healthy, upbeat, stable people  who are able to show real  give and take caring and true authentic emotion.  If you must be in regular contact with a narcissist be sure to get regular support from a therapist or support group trained in dealing with NPD to help you remain clear, at peace, and out of the alligator roll.

And may I just say, with all the empathy and compassion in my heart: I am so sorry for the hurt and bewilderment you’ve experienced in this relationship. You did not and you do not deserve this treatment. What you do deserve is lots of self-care as you recover from it.  You did nothing wrong, the true colors of someone with NPD often don’t show themselves until you are in some sort of committed relationship.   If you’d never heard of Narcissism and its traits, there is no way you could have done any better than you did to survive at the time.  We do the best with what we know to do,  we do better as we know more.

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Three basic steps to healing from a crazymaking relationship are:

1) Educate yourself on NPDs and the effect they have on others (and techniques to minimize this effect). There are many wonderful books, but the one I recommend most is titled When the Object of Their Affection is Their Reflection.

2) Detach and minimize contact as much as possible (Al-anon literature is fabulous for this,whether or not your NPD has addiction issues.  Learning how to detach-with-love is an emotional life saver. You may also find help from books on co-dependency, though sometimes these can be a  bit condescending and that’s the last thing a person in recovery from NPD needs.  I always recommend the book, Why Does He Do That? to women who have been severely emotionally and physically abused by a dangerous narcissist.  After you heal, you will have very little if any tolerance for the slightest forms of belittling, because it can trigger painful past experiences of helplessness.  (And you won’t be helpless anymore!)

3) Prioritize your own emotional nourishment; make your well-being at the top of your list.  (I often recommend Lucille Zimmerman’s book, Renewed, to women who need to call a time-out and learn the art of self-care. If you can find and afford a therapist who is familiar with NPD and how to help those recovering from it, it will be a huge investment in your well-being. )

Please pass along this blog post to anyone you know who is caught in this web.  It may be “Ah-ha” revelation that leads to the “Ahhhhh….”  of a  more healthy, happy, nourished life.

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Shrimp in Alfredo Sauce over Crispy Polenta with Greens

DSC_0030(Becky, the Mama.)

I love it when a plan comes together, when a dish in your imagination turns out as delicious as the actual experiment.  This is one such meal.

Last night I  put a little gourmet Italian twist on southern-style Shrimp n’ Grits, then added a serving of smoky-garlicky greens as a side. The results?  Not only was the presentation gorgeous, it tasted heavenly.  As in I would absolutely put a this recipe in the category of “the perfect bite” and serve it up in a spoon to Nigella Lawson and Anthony Bourdain on the show “The Taste”.  Then step back and wait for them to swoon and hand me the prize without further debate.

In place of  the traditional grits, I pan-fried thin slices of ready-made polenta, often used in Italian recipes.  I used Trader Joe’s brand, which comes in package shelf (not refrigerated), usually near the Italian section of the store.  It looks like moist, cooked cornmeal made into a log and wrapped in plastic.  That is because, well, it is.   It is not the most appetizing looking food when you open it up for slicing. (Think yellow corn grits that may have been left too long in a pan.) However, once you’ve pan-fried them in olive oil and butter, with a little salt and pepper…. Look out, Louise.   They turn into crispy-edged, buttery disks of corny decadence.

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polenta skilletI made a quick n’ easy, creamy Alfredo sauce for the shrimp and paired it side dish of greens–  a mixture of kale and some wonderful fresh greens, a gift from our neighbor’s garden.

I can’t wait for you to try this recipe, a Taste of Tuscany meets South in Your Mouth.

Bon appetito, Ya’ll!

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Shrimp Alfredo with Crispy Polenta and Greens

Serve’s 2

Ingredients

For Polenta:

½ log of pre-made polenta

1 T. butter

1T. olive oil

Dash salt and pepper

 

For Shrimp and Alfredo:

20 pieces of raw medium shrimp, cleaned, peeled, tails removed

1 T. olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup cream

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Dash salt

 

For Greens:

1 T. Olive oil

2 cloves garlic minced,

½ red onion, diced fine

2 slices pork or turkey bacon diced fine

4 cups loosely packed, rough chopped  kale and/or other greens,  thick stems mostly removed

½ cup water

1 t. smoked paprika

1 T. vinegar, your favorite

1 T. brown sugar

Salt and Pepper (or Grill Seasoning or Cajun Seasoning) to taste

Tabasco or Frank’s Red Sauce or Red Chili Pepper to taste

 

Directions:

Start the greens first, so they can simmer on the back burner.  In your largest deepest skillet, saute olive oil, garlic, red onion and bacon, until bacon crisps. Pile the greens on top of this mixture in the skillet, cover with ½ cup of water, cover, and let the greens cook down about 5 minutes over medium heat. Take lid off and stir in paprika, vinegar and brown sugar, add salt and pepper and hot sauce to taste.  Cover again and simmer while you make the shrimp and sauce.  (Adding water if needed to keep from scorching, but no more than necessary.)

In another skillet (I like my iron skillet) let oil and butter melt and get hot while you slice the polenta into ¼ inch or so rounds.  Place the rounds in the skillet and turn heat up to medium high so that the polenta starts to pan fry.  When it is golden brown in places, turn it over and brown the other side.  Sprinkle the tops very lightly with salt and pepper.  Remove to a paper towel to drain any excess grease, then cover with another paper town to keep warm.

Wipe out the iron skillet with a paper towel, and then put in oil and garlic and shrimp.  Cook for just a minute or two until shrimp just turns pink on both sides.  (You can add a little water to the pan if the shrimp starts to stick.)  Add cream and parmesan cheese.  Stir and heat until cheese is melted and the shrimp and sauce is heated through.  Season lightly with salt to taste, if needed.

Put about 5 or 6  rounds of polenta on each plate.  Pile with shrimp and sauce.  Sprinkle with smoked paprika.  Serve with a side of the greens.


Ultimate, Everything Pumpkin Bread (with cherries, nuts, sunflower seeds and cream cheese)

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(Becky, the Mama.)

Yesterday, Colorado was cool, misty and alive with Fall color.  I snapped this picture out my upstairs bedroom window . Through the window pane and the mist, the photo came out looking like a painting, so beautiful it seemed almost unreal.
Room with an Autumn View

On a day like that, what else is there to do but curl up with a book and a blanket, take a long nap, then wake up, pad to the kitchen and bake pumpkin bread?

I searched for what I hoped would be the perfect recipe for pumpkin bread: I wanted it to be moist, spicy and full of tasty surprises.  I narrowed it down to six recipes.  In the end,  I threw elements from all six recipes into the bowl and pans, adding special tweaks of my own. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I’d doubled the spices, used both brown and white sugar plus a tad of maple syrup, folded chopped pecans and dried cherries into the batter.  Then I thought, “Why not?”  as I plopped dollops of whipped cream cheese in the middle of the batter. Then I wondered, “What could make a nice sweet n’ salty crunchy top crust?” I reached for brown sugar and roasted salted sunflower seed kernels.  Then I popped the loaves into the oven and waited.  I had created either a masterpiece, or disaster.  I worried I might  have tweaked this recipe to death.

Well, I am pleased to announce the results are in and they are a 10.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is the BEST pumpkin bread I have ever tasted, moist with deep flavor and so many treats-to-the-senses per bite: the sweet tartness of the cherries, the smooth bits of cream cheese and satisfying chew of baked-in-pecans.  The crunchy crust… with a hint of salt and sugar..oh. my.

But don’t just take my word for it. Try it yourself next time the baking mood hits you on one of these cool fall days that beckon you to the kitchen. And feel free to tweak away and make the recipe even more your own– switch out the dried cherries for any dried fruit you like, or use chocolate chips (hmmm… white chocolate chips? Butterscotch chips?).  Use nuts you prefer or have on hand.  I never let what’s not in my pantry keep me from making a recipe.  Go with what you’ve got,  what sounds good… and most of all,have fun.

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Becky’s Epic Pumpkin Bread

(Makes 2 loaves)

3 cups flour 

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. ginger

1/2 t. cloves

1 t. nutmeg

1 t. almond extract (optional)

1 1/2 t. salt 

3 t. baking powder

1 t. baking soda

4 eggs

2 T. maple syrup

1 can (16 oz) pumpkin 

2/3 cup light oil  (I used olive oil as it was all I had on hand.  Worked beautifully.) 

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (can use up to 2/3 cup if you love nuts)

1/2 cup roughly dried cherries or cranberries  (can use up to 2/3 cup if you prefer more dried-fruit-per-bite)

whipped cream cheese ( I used a light variety that comes in a tub)…  about 1/2  to 2/3 cup

For Topping:  

1/4 to 1/3 cup brown or turbinado sugar 

1/3 to 1/2  cup roasted, salted sunflower seed kernels 

 

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a whisk. Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add eggs, syrup, pumpkin, oil.  Whisk the wet ingredients together as you slowly incorporate the dry ingredients as well.  Finish stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, slowly folding in pecans and dried cherries.  

Grease and flour two loaf pans.  Pour (or spoon) 1/4 of the batter into each pan, and spread evenly.  Then dollop heaping teaspoons of whipped cream cheese across the surface of the batter in both pans.  Pour the remaining batter over the top of the cream cheese, dividing it evenly between the two pans. Smooth with spatula.

Sprinkle the tops of the batter with brown or turbinado sugar and sunflower seeds.  

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until top is golden and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean. 

Cool thoroughly before serving.  I think the flavors of this bread get better as it sits and cools.   Freezes beautifully. 

Note: I made this at high altitude with no problem.  Many quick breads use more baking soda, but I just hate the after-taste of baking soda. This option rises perfectly, but without that funky  soda aftertaste…

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